Three years ago, the coordinators of TEDxFargo stood on assembled pallet wood in Ecce Art Gallery with around 100 people in the audience. Last Thursday, July 23, this year’s organizers stood in a spotlight on stage at the Fargo Civic Center with an audience of over 1,800.

“There are more event volunteers this year than there were attendees at the first TEDxFargo,” Lead Organizer Annika Nynas announced from stage. “And more attendees this year than the first five events combined.”

TEDxFargo 2015

Photo by J Alan Paul Photography

From the first steps into the transformed Civic Center, the caliber of the event was clearly much different from past TEDxFargo events. Four wide screens billowed above the audience in the auditorium in the characteristic X-shape, displaying video as if the room were hurtling through a distant galaxy. The lighting, courtesy of Livewire, played into the theme of Wonder that permeated the entire event.

“We wanted to be more playful this year,” said co-organizer and lead creative for the event, Jeff Knight. “We’ve had more rigid rules for design in the past, and this year we threw them out the window.”

Like the design, every detail of the day was crafted with intention. Before the event and during breaks, guests could get free coffee, snacks, a massage, cuddle with therapy puppies, color on seed paper which was later planted in a community garden, or watch two artists live painting a gigantic mural. Lunch was a smorgasbord of local vendors, offering everything from chicken pot pie to watermelon gazpacho.


Pour overs from 20 Below Coffee!


Live mural painting!



The amount of behind-the-scenes work did not go unnoticed. Visitors from around the country, including some visitors from California, remarked that the day was inspiring, that they had no idea this existed in Fargo.

As Jordan Nelson, a graphic designer who has attended past TEDxFargo events, put it, “Last year’s event was more boutique. But this year it was like… elite.”

TEDxFargo 2015: The Lineup

Twenty-two speakers took the stage throughout the event, covering topics from healthcare to marshmallows. Doctors, artists, teachers, musicians, and entrepreneurs, among others, shared their ideas to create what TEDxFargo organizer Greg Tehven describes as “a spa for the mind.”

One of the core ideas woven through the event was the need for reformation in education systems across the country, as touched on by speakers like theater director Rebecca Meyer-Larson, 2nd grade teacher Kayla Delzer, MSUM President Anne Blackhurst and former venture capitalist turned filmmaker, Ted Dintersmith. All recognized that the education system as it is now, whether at an elementary or university level, must change to fit a rapidly shifting world geared more towards innovation.


Rebecca Meyer-Larson questions why instigator has a negative connotation.

Dintersmith was inspired to create his film on education reform after he began keeping track of what his kids were doing in school and found an alarming amount of irrelevant work was being done.

“We need to change our model again,” he said, referencing the last major change in education which was modeled for the manufacturing age. “This is a new world.”

Doctors like Dr. Rajiv Shah, Dr. Carol Gunn and Dr. Starla Fitch also shared ideas on how to improve healthcare both in the industry and personally. Dr. Fitch, an optometrist and author of Remedy for Burnout, shared how her office dynamic drastically improved after she established a rule of sharing three things you’re grateful for every day. She stressed that often people don’t realize the importance of social health.

“Lack of social connection can kill us,” she said, encouraging people to “open their eyes and really see each other.”

Many speakers prompted the audience to see something in a new light; Shawn Muehler, COO of Botlink highlighted the positive potential for drones, refuting the “scary drone” idea; local musician and editor Diane Miller encouraged the audience to listen to the culture behind music; CoedMonkey CEO Bill Svoboda gave perhaps one of the most detailed descriptions of a t-shirt that many had ever heard, for example.


Shawn Muehler speaks about drones.

Others, like Storefront founder Tristan Pollock and Vidku founder Charles Miller, spoke on the importance of design and how it can transform a business – or a city. Nipun Mehta and Paul Shoemaker shared messages of philanthropy, how good collaboration with hearts of service can truly change the world.

There were musical performances too – a rallying big band number by Mark J. Lindquist kicked off the event, with musical numbers by local theaters in between. World-renowned violinist Leoncarlo Canlas so captivated the audience with an original piece, that one attendee even remarked, “he spoke more to me than any speaker, and he used the least amount of words.”

And Nathan Clark, the Chief Marshmallow Agent himself, touched on the root of it all: love, the importance of love in business, and why giving is always more important than getting.

“Love others with all you got,” he said.


Hand drawn portraits of every speaker done by McCal Joy Johnson.

AJ Leon, leader of Misfit Incorporated, closed off the event by sharing his own personal story of abruptly quitting his job as an executive in finance with bucketloads of money to do something he was actually passionate about. He’s now a world-traveling artist and philanthropist, living proof that it’s possible to “machete your own path,” as he would say.

“This is not your practice life,” he said, to a riveted audience. “This is your one and only.

As a staple part of the TED talk experience, each TEDxFargo talk was recorded via video and will be shared on YouTube in late August. Currently, the most viewed TEDxFargo video is from Lissa Rankin, “Is medicine killing you?” with 123,431 views.

The Origins of TEDxFargo

TEDx events are independently organized versions of the globally popular TED talks. They follow the mission of TED – which stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design – to “spread ideas worth sharing.” Four years ago, when Greg Tehven had recently returned to his hometown of Fargo, the idea seemed to fit the burgeoning startup scene of the city.

“After I returned from wandering the world for 11 months and moved back to Fargo for the first time in 8 years, I was invited to speak at TEDxTC (Twin Cities),” Tehven said. “When invited, I shared with their curator, Chadburn Blomquist, that I would only do the talk if he coached me on bringing TEDx to Fargo. He graciously agreed.”

He asked for this exchange because he wanted to show off Fargo’s potential, Tehven said.

“I wanted to prove that there was incredible talent here and do something special,” he said.

He worked with Mark Weiler, Dr. Susan Mathison, Karla Aaland and Jade Nielsen to create the first TEDxFargo, which was hosted on February 7, 2012.

TEDxFargo Past Events (1)

Some of the OG TEDxFargo committee

Following that first event, TEDxFargo continued to grow, with themes like City 2.0, Rethink Learning, and last year’s On Purpose, which also included a TEDxYouth event. The planning committee has grown as well; this year’s Director of Events Annika Nynas and co-director Mark Staples started off as volunteers, and continued to volunteer through planning team leadership out of a love for the event.

TEDxFargo 15

The 2015 TEDxFargo committee. Photo by Dan Francis

Looking back at the nearly eight months of planning, countless hours of design, e-mails, meetings and ticket sales, the team celebrated this year’s event as a big success.

“Based on the outpouring of feedback received, I think it is safe to say this was by far the most successful and well-orchestrated TEDxFargo yet,” Knight said.

Until next year!

 Check out TEDxFargo’s live Storify, here.

Photos courtesy of J. Alan Photography, Dan Francis, and Marisa Jackels.

Watch Tehven’s TEDxTC talk, “The Unlearning Curve,” here.


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Marisa Jackels